MANILA (UPDATED) - The Department of Health (DOH) is now monitoring a Filipina nurse who tested positive for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in Saudi Arabia.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Health Secretary Enrique Ona said the 37-year-old nurse, along with another 49-year-old Filipina nurse, arrived in Manila last Friday.
Ona said the two nurses, who were working in the same hospital in Saudi Arabia, both underwent medical examination there before leaving for Manila. However, they did not wait for the results of the tests.
Ona said the health department received a call from the nurses' supervisor early morning on Tuesday, saying that one of them had tested positive for MERS-CoV.
He said the nurse who tested positive for the virus hails from General Santos City while the other who tested negative is from San Jose del Monte, Bulacan.
"However, nung pagdating nila, si nurse B (the one who tested positive for MERS-CoV) natulog muna sa bahay ni A. The day before yesterday si B lumipad na sa General Santos using naman a Cebu Pacific flight," Ona said.
He said nurse B, who was asymptomatic or was not showing any symptoms, was immediately alerted and brought to the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City yesterday for further tests. Her family was also brought to the hospital and placed on isolation.
The results of the tests are expected to be out later in the evening. "However, positive na siya doon sa Saudi Arabia so we're confirming lang," Ona said.
Nurse A, meanwhile, was also immediately informed of the situation. She and her family were brought to the Lung Center of the Philippines and placed on isolation.
The results of their tests came out early today. All were negative for MERS-CoV.
Ona said this means that the possibility of nurse B's family, as well as her co-passengers in the Saudi Airlines and Cebu Pacific flights, getting infected with the virus is slim.
"Chances are yung pamilya niya doon ay magiging negative din yun. The chance of being infected, lalong-lalo na yung mga kasama niya sa eroplano -- although possible -- is very slim," he said.
But he stressed that they are "not leaving any stone unturned." He said they are now in the process of contacting all 249 passengers of Saudi Airlines flight SV870 and the 143 passengers of Cebu Pacific flight 5J997 to advise them to also undergo examination.
The health secretary also advised Filipinos in the Middle East, especially those working in hospitals, to have themselves tested before coming home to the Philippines.
"Not only should they have a test, but also hintayin nila ang result bago pumunta dito," he added.
Meanwhile, Ona assured the public that the Philippines remains free from MERS-CoV.
"As of today, despite the fact na dalawa na itong nakalusot na nurses, we can still claim that the Philippines is MERS-Coronavirus-free," Ona said, noting that the Filipina nurse got the illness while she was in Saudi Arabia.
He also said that the Philippines also remains free from the deadly Ebola virus.
"We are ready to do all the necessary precaution, necessary support for coping with the disease and even preventing them from spreading," Ona said.